Self-employed communications consultants often feel as if they’re operating in an information vacuum, especially when it comes to rates and compensation. How much are other freelance communications consultants charging? What factors influence compensation, and how satisfied are independent practitioners with their careers?
To study these questions and more, Solo PR Pro conducted a survey in August/September 2015 and partnered with Dr. Timothy Brezina to conduct advanced statistical analysis of the data (notes on methodology follow this report).
- The top predictors of hourly rate are total PR experience, local client base (geographic limitation associated with a lower rate), larger typical client size, and Solo PR PRO Premium membership
- The new business strategies most-used by top income earners are direct referrals, networking and inbound inquiries
- Number of years in PR before starting your own business has no impact on income after adjusting (controlling) for other relevant factors
With 51% of saying they are very satisfied and 40% somewhat satisfied, it’s clear – people love this job! The numbers are especially impressive when you compare them to the workplace at large.
According to the 2014 edition of The Conference Board Job Satisfaction survey (and for the eighth straight year), less than half of US workers (47.7%) are satisfied with their jobs. Other polls put the number even lower, with a 2012 Right Management survey finding only 35% of workers in the U.S. and Canada are satisfied or somewhat satisfied, and in a 2013 Gallup poll, only 30 percent of over 150,000 people surveyed admitted they honestly enjoy their job and their bosses.
If you’re looking at becoming an independent communications consultant, a 90% satisfaction rate is obviously something to consider.
Satisfaction with revenue
Specific to revenue, overall 60% of respondents are either very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with their revenue, compared to 31% that are somewhat or very dissatisfied. As one would expect, the biggest predictor of satisfaction with income, by far, is actually income – Figure 2 shows that level of satisfaction with revenue decreases as one's income levels decrease.
Importantly, the study also shows that satisfaction with revenue influences overall satisfaction as an independent consultant. In total, more than 90% of those polled are satisfied with their jobs, yet we see satisfaction with income is lower for those who are not satisfied overall.
Though many independent communications consultants enjoy their careers for reasons other than money, these findings show how important it is for all professionals to pay attention to compensation. Not only does everyone deserve to be paid fairly, but doing so will increase your overall career satisfaction.
Predictors of income/rates
In this sample, the following predictors were associated with higher incomes (in order of importance):
- Typical hourly rate (higher rates associated with higher incomes)
- Number of hours worked per week (more hours associated with higher income)
- Size of typical client (larger size associated with higher income)
- Number of years as independent consultant (longer time associated with higher income)
Those with high incomes tend to have higher hourly rates, but those with high hourly rates have varied income levels. This is due to the number of hours worked, which is often a conscious decision on the part of the communications consultant.
Because our survey looked at both income and hourly rates separately, we were able to also identify the top predictors of hourly rate. Note that not all consultants bill based on hourly rates – our survey asked these professionals to estimate.
The predictors of hourly rate, in order of importance or degree of impact, are:
- Total PR experience in years (associated with higher rate)
- Local client base (versus regional, national or international) – local client base associated with lower rate
- Size of typical client (larger size associated with higher rate)
- Member of Solo PR PRO Premium (associated with higher rate)
We analyze these factors further below.
Not surprisingly, when analyzing our survey sample as a whole, the number of years one has been working as a communications practitioner has a positive impact on hourly rates.
However, the chart below illustrates that quite a few survey respondents are outliers – they have many years of experience, yet are charging relatively low rates:
We asked, “Where are your clients, relative to your location?” and offered Local, Regional, National and International response choices. In our survey, those who limit themselves to a local client base charge lower hourly rates.
Note: In Figure 5, each rate range is numbered (in brackets), and the totals at the bottom show the mean response. For example, the Local average of 4.6 indicates respondents with primarily local clients average between $75-99 (4) and $100-149 (5) for hourly rate.
Broadening one’s client base geographically not only helps hedge against location-specific challenges, it also has a positive impact on the rates you can charge.
The size of your clients’ organizations is another predictor of higher hourly rates. All else being equal, our survey finds that smaller companies tend to pay less.
Even when controlling for everything else (including years of experience, etc.), Solo PR PRO Premium membership is associated with an increase in hourly rate of more than $9 per hour. Put in context, if a consultant is billing just 20 hours per week, 50 weeks a year, this can translate to an additional $9,000 in annual revenue.
We believe this is largely due to the educational materials offered by Solo PR PRO Premium, which provide step-by-step rate guidance and expand communicators’ skillsets, as well as the service’s community of support (members often brainstorm with each other on what to charge). In addition, by joining Solo PR PRO Premium, members make a commitment to advance their professional development and become as profitable as possible – members of the group are self-selected to be highly motivated.
It is encouraging to see that the majority of respondents noted a year-over-year increase in income from 2013 to 2014 (Figure 6), and the majority also expect to earn more in 2015 than they did in 2014 (Figure 7).
New business strategies are always a key concern for independent consultants – so what do those at the highest income levels do? Figure 8 depicts the percentage in each profit bracket that receive clients from the new business methods listed:
Note: Those not self-employed for all of 2014 are not shown. Respondents were asked to check all that apply, so totals exceed 100%. Those who responded “other” listed either direct referral new business (e.g., “I sub-contract for someone who gets grassroots work from a national firm”) or inbound tactics (e.g., “Newsletter,” social media, etc.).
In this chart, we see 100% of people making $120,000 a year or more receive new business from Direct Referrals (from first-degree contacts). Other important sources of new business for top earners include networking and inbound inquiries.
It’s also useful to see the new business tactics those with the most revenue are not using. Those at the highest compensation levels do not use cold calling (in fact, of our 204 total responses – across income levels – only 8 total reported using cold calling), and many of the top earners have limited use of RFPs and warm prospecting.
This survey asked three questions related to experience:
1) How many years of PR/communications experience do you have (total—both independent and traditionally employed)?
2) How many years did you work in PR/communications (traditionally employed) before starting your own independent consulting business?
3) How long have you had your own independent consulting business?
As a result, we were able to isolate each and control for other variables. Of these three factors, when it comes to income, the type of experience that matters most is the length of time one has been an independent consultant. Total PR experience in years plays an indirect role (and was the top predictor of hourly rate), but the number of years traditionally employed in PR before starting your own business had no direct impact on income.
This is an important finding, which may sound counter-intuitive to some. Because many successful consultants are traditionally employed for lengthy periods before becoming self-employed, it is often assumed that a lengthy history of traditional employment is necessary for success as an independent.
These results show this is not the case for many pros –all else equal, the experience one derives as a self-employed consultant is more consequential than working for someone else.
At Solo PR Pro, we are dedicated to helping independent communications consultants succeed and grow. It is our hope that the results of this survey will help self-employed professionals– and those considering joining our ranks – make fact-based decisions, resulting in more productive and profitable businesses that bring satisfaction and fulfillment to their founders.
Solo PR PRO Premium members: Click here to access this report as a downloadable PDF, including additional demographics data on our survey sample and other bonus features.
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Members of the media, please contact us for this report.
Solo PR Pro conducted a survey in August/September 2015 and received 204 responses. Respondents listed primary disciplines in Public Relations (53%), Marketing Communications/Corporate Communications (13%), Media Relations (7%), Writing (5%), Strategic Counsel (5%), Digital Marketing (4%), Marketing (3%), Social Media Management (2%), Investor Relations (1%) and Other (5%).
Dr. Timothy Brezina of Georgia State University, spouse of Solo PR Pro founder Kellye Crane, used ordinary-least-squares (OLS) regression to identify the predictors of income and hourly rate. Variables included in the multivariate analyses:
For income, the following variables were included: Hours worked for week, total years of PR experience, length of time as an independent consultant, typical hourly rate, Solo PR PRO Premium membership status, gender, average number of clients, average number of employees, size of typical client, population size of your area, client location (local versus other), age and race/ethnicity. (Note: Preliminary analyses indicated that “number of years in PR before starting your own business” was not associated with income. This variable was excluded from the final analyses).
For hourly rate, the following variables were included: Hours worked for week, total years of PR experience, length of time as independent consultant, Solo PR PRO Premium membership status, gender, average number of clients, average number of employees, size of typical client, population size of your area, client location (local versus other), age and race/ethnicity.
In the equation that focused on the predictors of hourly rate, Solo PR PRO Premium membership exhibited an effect of .373 on hourly rate. In other words, membership status is associated with a .373 unit increase in hourly rate (all else equal). If the hourly rates had been reported in units (or increments) of $25-per-hour, then this would translate into a $9.33 increase in the hourly rate (.373 X $25). In the actual survey, however, the hourly rate units ranged from $25 at the low end, to $50-per-hour at the high end. So the actual dollar increase associated with membership status is likely to be greater. We present a conservative estimate in this report.
Although regression models are commonly used to analyze data from convenience samples such as this, and can be useful in the identification of predictors and their relative importance, the results should be interpreted with the following caution in mind: The results of significance tests may be sample- dependent and the extent to which the results can be generalized beyond this particular sample is unknown.
We'll be taking a closer look at some of the top issues identified in this study in future blog posts, so stay tuned. What do you think of these findings – were you surprised by any of the results? Let us know in the comments!